Department of Music

Back Page

Vernacularity: The Politics of Language and Style
London, Ontario, March 1999

Vernacularity: The Politics of Language and Style London, Ontario Thursday March 4 to Sunday March 7, 1999
The term vernacular suggests a range of sometimes conflicting meanings. It can describe a "mother tongue", a local language or style, accessible only to a specific group, and associated with the regional or the national. Or it can have overtones of the popular and the oral, and, as a "common tongue", bear the promise of universal accessibility. The term is now widely invokes not only in literary, language and translation studies, but in architecture, musicology, dance studies, philosophy, theology, and other fields. Yet its use is often emotionally laden and unreflective: its implications are the topic of this conference. The major theme of the conference will be historical, concerned with the ideological and cultural arguments that have been articulated through appeal to notions of the vernacular. We expect there to be a principal focus on the literature and languages of medieval and early modern western Europe -- on the processes by which writers in French, Spanish, Italian, Provencal, English, German, Dutch, Norse, Czech, Polish, and other languages and literatures constructed an idea of the "mother" or "common" tongue in relation to Latin and to one another, and the extent to which these were controversial (and often, of course, argued over not in the vernacular but in Latin). But the conference's success will largely depend on our success in attracting papers in areas where other models of the relationship between the vernacular and its alternatives obtain, for example from scholars of medieval Hebrew, early Chinese, Indian, East Asian, Persian, Arabic, Ottoman, Greek, Russian, African, and North and South American literatures and languages; of premodern art and music, as well as philosophy, history and theology; and from a limited number of those whose concern is with the modern world, e.g., with the relation between English or Spanish as "world" languages and the vernaculars (e.g., Amerindian languages) they often threaten to displace; with the status of and politics surrounding native North American languages; with black American vernacular culture; or with language theory. The conference will be of moderate size (probably about fifty papers) held over four days at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada, and will be organized with a view to publishing some of the papers in book form. Rather than dividing the topic up by period, discipline, or geographical region, most sessions will bring together scholars from different fields and periods, so that similarities and differences between these fields can be explored by the participants. We are looking for two-page proposals for thirty-minute papers, to reach us (preferably by email) by September 30. (We will continue to consider later submissions for as long as possible, but with a diminishing likelihood of being able to fit them in.) When submitting proposals, please bear in mind, first, the conference's emphasis on vernacular ideology rather than praxis (although many papers will of course approach ideology through study of praxis); second, the conference's concern with the comparative study of vernaculars, and thus the need to present specialist work in an accessible way. Please feel free to discuss possible papers with us by email, and to suggest themes and issues that seem to you relevant to the topic of vernacularity that we may not have thought of. The conference's own common tongues will be English and French, although we will attempt to make arrangements to assist people who have reason to wish to present papers in other languages. We are hoping to receive funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; if we do so, we may be able to provide some financial assistance, especially to graduate students and those without other sources of funding. We plan to provide daycare for anyone who may need it. Please write to Nicholas Watson or Fiona Somerset, Department of English, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada N6A3K7, or preferably email or